A Fish Story
: The Lilac Fairy Book
Perhaps you think that fishes were always fishes, and never lived
anywhere except in the water, but if you went to Australia and
talked to the black people in the sandy desert in the centre of
the country, you would learn something quite different. They
would tell you that long, long ago you would have met fishes on
the land, wandering from place to place, and hunting all sorts of
animals, and if you consider how fishe
are made, you will
understand how difficult this must have been and how clever they
were to do it. Indeed, so clever were they that they might have
been hunting still if a terrible thing had not happened.
One day the whole fish tribe came back very tired from a hunting
expedition, and looked about for a nice, cool spot in which to
pitch their camp. It was very hot, and they thought that they
could not find a more comfortable place than under the branches
of a large tree which grew by the bank of a river. So they made
their fire to cook some food, right on the edge of a steep bank,
which had a deep pool of water lying beneath it at the bottom.
While the food was cooking they all stretched themselves lazily
out under the tree, and were just dropping off to sleep when a
big black cloud which they had never noticed spread over the sun,
and heavy drops of rain began to fall, so that the fire was
almost put out, and that, you know, is a very serious thing in
savage countries where they have no matches, for it is very hard
to light it again. To make matters worse, an icy wind began to
blow, and the poor fishes were chilled right through their
'This will never do,' said Thuggai, the oldest of the fish tribe.
'We shall die of cold unless we can light the fire again,' and he
bade his sons rub two sticks together in the hope of kindling a
flame, but though they rubbed till they were tired, not a spark
could they produce.
'Let me try,' cried Biernuga, the bony fish, but he had no better
luck, and no more had Kumbal, the bream, nor any of the rest.
'It is no use,' exclaimed Thuggai, at last. 'The wood is too wet.
We must just sit and wait till the sun comes out again and dries
it.' Then a very little fish indeed, not more than four inches
long and the youngest of the tribe, bowed himself before Thuggai,
saying, 'Ask my father, Guddhu the cod, to light the fire. He is
skilled in magic more than most fishes.' So Thuggai asked him,
and Guddhu stripped some pieces of bark off a tree, and placed
them on top of the smouldering ashes. Then he knelt by the side
of the fire and blew at it for a long while, till slowly the
feeble red glow became a little stronger and the edges of the
bark showed signs of curling up. When the rest of the tribe saw
this they pressed close, keeping their backs towards the piercing
wind, but Guddhu told them they must go to the other side, as he
wanted the wind to fan his fire. By and by the spark grew into a
flame, and a merry crackling was heard.
'More wood,' cried Guddhi, and they all ran and gathered wood and
heaped it on the flames, which leaped and roared and sputtered.
'We shall soon be warm now,' said the people one to another.
'Truly Guddhu is great'; and they crowded round again, closer and
closer. Suddenly, with a shriek, a blast of wind swept down from
the hills and blew the fire out towards them. They sprang back
hurriedly, quite forgetting where they stood, and all fell down
the bank, each tumbling over the other, till they rolled into the
pool that lay below. Oh, how cold it was in that dark water on
which the sun never shone! Then in an instant they felt warm
again, for the fire, driven by the strong wind, had followed them
right down to the bottom of the pool, where it burned as brightly
as ever. And the fishes gathered round it as they had done on the
top of the cliff, and found the flames as hot as before, and that
fire never went out, like those upon land, but kept burning for
ever. So now you know why, if you dive deep down below the cold
surface of the water on a frosty day, you will find it
comfortable and pleasant underneath, and be quite sorry that you
cannot stay there.
Australian Folk Tale.